Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Story of the Dak Bungalow

Since I was reminded of Kipling recently, I remembered an article from the Calcutta (sic) Telegraph about the history and etymology of Dak Bunglaows. According to the author, Kipling spent a lot of time in Dak Bungalows in his travels across India. Having stayed in a few myself, most notably in Guna, Madhya Pradesh, the article struck a chord.

The word apparently is derived from the Bangla (what else!) and was originally nothing more than the hut of the Bengali peasant. I am posting an excerpt from the article with a link to the original. Enjoy.

"For the British rulers, whose morbidity and mortality rates were alarmingly high in an inhospitable land, trying to build homes and offices that minimized the ravages of disease and discomfort was by no means a minor preoccupation. As early as the end of the 18th century, the bungalow emerged as a distinct meld of styles. The Hobson-Jobson — that invaluable lexicon on legitimate and other entrants into Queen’s English — has a long and detailed description of it, the etymology of the word being traced back to the common hut of the Bengal (Bangla) peasant. By the end of the 18th century, the East India Company’s engineering department was working on transforming the bangla, now also known as bungelow, bungelo, bangalla and, finally, bungalow."


" jaya said...

I haven't stayed in that many dak bungalows- but the association of DBs and ghosts is an evergreen one. And having stayed for quite some time in hill stations - Shimla, Mussoorie, Landour, Dalhousie and Chamba which boast a fair share of 'spirited' sightings....and of resthouses - all I can say is that the Dak Bungalows ended up as a pretty permanent 'home away from home' for many Brits.

Kipling himself wrote about dak bungalows thus:

'Some of the dak-bungalows on the Grand Trunk Road have handy little cemeteries in their compound--witnesses to the "changes and chances of this mortal life" in the days when men drove from Calcutta to the Northwest. These bungalows are objectionable places to put up in. They are generally very old, always dirty, while the khansamah is as ancient as the bungalow. He either chatters senilely, or falls into the long trances of age. In both moods he is useless. If you get angry with him, he refers to some Sahib dead and buried these thirty years, and says that when he was in that Sahib's service not a khansamah in the Province could touch him. Then he jabbers and mows and trembles and fidgets among the dishes, and you repent of your irritation.

In these dak-bungalows, ghosts are most likely to be found, and when found, they should be made a note of. Not long ago it was my business to live in dak-bungalows. I never inhabited the same house for three nights running, and grew to be learned in the breed. I lived in Government-built ones with red brick walls and rail ceilings, an inventory of the furniture posted in every room, and an excited snake at the threshold to give welcome. I lived in "converted" ones--old houses officiating as dak-bungalows--where nothing was in its proper place and there wasn't even a fowl for dinner. I lived in second-hand palaces where the wind blew through open-work marble tracery just as uncomfortably as through a broken pane. I lived in dak-bungalows where the last entry in the visitors' book was fifteen months old, and where they slashed off the curry-kid's head with a sword. It was my good luck to meet all sorts of men, from sober traveling missionaries and deserters flying from British Regiments, to drunken loafers who threw whisky bottles at all who passed; and my still greater good fortune just to escape a maternity case. Seeing that a fair proportion of the tragedy of our lives out here acted itself in dak-bungalows, I wondered that I had met no ghosts. A ghost that would voluntarily hang about a dak-bungalow would be mad of course; but so many men have died mad in dak-bungalows that there must be a fair percentage of lunatic ghosts. '

Yet, despite Mr. Kipling's aversion to the rest houses - surely a case of TINA- I think quite a few of us would like Dak Bungalows for short stays - even in these comfort enabled, spit and polish and gleaming granite times- Dak Bungalows are authentic and they have something sorely missing in many 5 star hotels today - 'character'.

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